The Washington chapter of the American Refugee Committee -- a private, nonprofit organization founded to resettle Indochinese refugees -- is one of the newest and most energetic groups helping to find homes, jobs and friends for the estimated 800 Southeast Asians arriving here each month from camps in Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.
The local group, headed by Washington attorney Davis Robinson, was organized last fall. It is working to find sponsors for refugees, and solicits money and supplies, medical care, legal help and other types of assistance from individuals, private businesses and organizations in the metropolitan area.
The committee does not seek federal money because "we're a grass-roots organization. If we took federal funds, we would no longer be a community group," said Susan Green, executive director. "We're going to law firms, private individual, local foundations, and we have every reason to believe we can raise the money we need."
Greene said the organization seeks sponsors for arriving refugees, and encourages groups, such as church congregations or neighbors, to band together to sponsor homeless families, adding that "We're trying to be a little creative in the sponsorship process."
So far, the commitee has found 15 groups and individuals to sponsor 150 refugees, and hopes to repeat these numbers each month, Greene said. The Washington area's Southeast Asian refugee population -- now estimated at 14,000, the third largest in the nation -- is expected to double within the next 18 months, she said.
The committee plans to serve as a clearinghouse for information about services and assistance available to refugees, and seeks temporary housing where newly arrived families can live until permanent homes are found. The committee also has played a major role in establishing a pediatric clinic for refugee children, staffed by tropical medicine experts, where youngsters can get complete medical checkups.
"They get a minimal medical screening in the camps that is supposed to spot active TB and infectious diseases," said Green. "What children really need is screening to find the worms and parasites that are eating away at them. And they must start immunizations right away."
The first chapter of the American Refugee Committee was established in Chicago in late 1978 by businessman Neal Ball. A third chapter has been established in Minneapolis.